Tag Archives: ale

Crumbs Brewing and the bread-beer relationship

Crumbs Brewing Amber Lager

This blog was founded because of my dual love of bread and beer, two foodstuffs that are linked through their fundamental ingredients of grain and yeast. At some point after humanity settled and began growing crops, we discovered that grain, either whole or ground as flour, underwent a decisive process when mixed with liquid and left – fermentation. The first written record of all this is from ancient Sumeria (modern southern Iraq), the circa 1800BC Hymn to Ninkasi1 – the goddess of beer, or more broadly, the goddess of fermentation. Her followers may well have been responsible for beer and bread.

For centuries, fermentation remained a sort of quotidian mystery. Such was the significance of bread and ale as staples for the masses in Medieval Europe that the unknown ingredient had an almost spiritual nature and was called “Godisgoode”, “God is good” (possibly2). Early scientists thought the process was chemical not biological. The single cell fungi yeast and lactobacilli that fed on sugars and produced carbon dioxide – leavening bread and lending vigour to beer – wouldn’t be understood until the mid-19th century and the work of microbiologist Louis Pasteur.

Anyway. In Lewes, on the second Sunday of every month, there’s a street food market called Food Rocks. Not many people seem to be aware of it, so it needs a bit more promotion – as there’s some good stuff there. I was helping my friend Alex Marcovitch on his stall Kabak, selling delicious Eastern Meditteranean, North African and Middle Eastern foods. This time round, diagonally opposite us were Chalk Hills Bakery of Reigate, in the Surrey Hills, where I got myself ready for my shift with a delicious cinnamon bun, and Crumbs Brewing, where I met founder Morgan Arnell and “crumb spreader” Adria Tarrida.

Restoring an ancient connection
These two establishments have a noteworthy relationship. It’s one that reconfirms the ancient connection between baker and brewer. Historically, notably in Gaelic cultures, bakeries and breweries would have operated side-by-side, the barm – the frothy surplus yeast – from the brew being utilised by the baker to make a leaven for bread3.

Apparently, in some parts of Europe, the barm method existed alongside the sourdough method. Baker and food writer John Downes gives one Medieval example here: “In England noblemen’s bread, manchet, was always made with the barm method, whereas the commoners’ bread, maslin, was a sourdough.” He continues “Barm bread survived until World War Two and even later in the North of England largely as barm cakes.”

Anyway, as usual I’m getting distracted4. Crumbs Brewing aren’t doing this (yet). Instead,they’re using leftover bread from Chalk Hills Bakery as an ingredient. A few breweries are using the technique, such as Toast Ale, whose website gives the statistic that “44% of bread is wasted”. It’s pretty shocking. Any food waste is a crime. The amount of energy put into growing and transporting food, only for it to be thrown away is bad enough, but in landfills it contributes to the problem of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Morgan Arnell and Adria Tarrida of Crumbs Brewing

Hills to Isle
So the work of breweries like Crumbs is very important. Morgan, who founded Crumbs with his wife Elaine, says they collect any leftover bread, crumb it, and freeze it. When they have 150kg they take it to Goddards Brewery on the Isle of Wight. Morgan says Goddards were “one of the few brewers that was willing to test out our recipe and method, helped by the fact that I grew up on the Island so could twist their arm to help us!”

The longer term plan is to set up in the Surrey Hills too. Morgan writes more about the process of making the beer – their first batch was brewed in April – here on the Crumbs blog. The 150kg makes a 30 hectolitre5 brew, “c 6000 500ml bottles in our case” explains Morgan.

Breadbeerisgood
Suffice to say, the beer is delicious. I wouldn’t really be writing about it here if I didn’t actually like the stuff. It’s called an Amber Lager, and I can kind of see the logic of this naming to help it appeal to lager drinkers. It’s certainly light and refreshing. It’s bottled at Goddards and isn’t bottle conditioned, but its carbonation level is pleasant. To my mind it is more an ale than a lager, and it is indeed made with top-fermenting (ale) yeasts, not bottom-fermenting (lager) yeast.

There are so many craft ales around at the moment, notably dubbed APA and American IPA, which overuse the Chinook, Cascade, Citra, Mosaic hops etc to the point where they’re reminiscent of cleaning products, pine-scented detergent or whathaveyou. Thankfully the Crumbs Amber is more subtle proposition. Morgan says they use Progress hops, which the British Hops Association says, are “an excellent bittering and late aroma hop.” The overall flavour is more about the malt and bread. It doesn’t taste bready per se, but it has a warm sweetness and decent body, without heaviness. Morgan says “The slightly sweet, malty aftertaste is a result of the bread.” He adds that they plan to try brewing with different types of bread and it “Will be interesting to see how brewing with different loaves changes that character.”

It’s a great addition to the SE of England craft brewing scene so I’m very glad to have come across Crumbs at Food Rocks. Good luck to them, and I’m intrigued to try their next beers made with different breads: “dark rye stout or sourdough IPA anyone?”

Notes
1 The full text of the Hymn of Ninkasi can be found here. In English, not ancient Sumerian.
2 There’s some debate. This thread gives a few sources for the term, but it’s not entirely conclusive.
3 I’ve done a few barm bread experiments: here and here.
4 When one is actually paid to write journalistically, one mustn’t get distracted. There’s usually a tight editorial brief and even tighter wordcount. Not so on one’s own blog! Hah!
5 A hectolitre is 100 litres. 1hl is about 0.61 UK beer barrels, or So 30hl is around 18 UK beer barrels or 660 imperial gallons. For Americans, 30hl is 25.5 US beer barrels or 795 US liquid gallons. Good heavens I wish people would standardise things globally. Some might see it as heritage. I love a bit of history, but all these different weights and measures just make life even more flipping complicated. I sincerely hope “Brexit” doesn’t have us going back to shillings and scruples and chains.

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Filed under Breweries, British beer, Discussion, Flour & grain

Harveys’ Old Ale and the end of the summer

Rev Godfrey Broster of Rectory Ales (left), Edmund Jenner and Robin Thorpe of Harveys (behind the bar)

In my last post I mentioned it was the autumn equinox a few days ago. This is the moment when day and night are the same length. And now the nights are, officially, getting longer. We’ve had a fairly poor summer here in southern England. May and June were lovely, but since then it’s been unsettled, frequently cool. After my two and half summers in Rome, where summer generally runs from April to October, I feel somewhat cheated.

That said, there is one bright side to the nights drawing in and the prospect of dark and damp from here through to March: Harveys’1 Old Ale.

I love Old Ale. It’s quite possibly my favourite of Harveys’ 20-odd beers (I think I’ve tried them all now; nearly at least). It’s dark and sweet and warming. If a beer can be cosy and reassuring, it’s Harveys’ Old Ale. It’s a beer that’s perfect to drink in a warm pub, preferably with an open fire, on a long winter evening. Robin Thorpe of Harveys called it the “classic winter beer”, and added that as September has already turned so cool and wet it’s fine to be drinking it already. Which suits me.

We got to try the first of this year’s Old Ale at a Harveys tasting last night, hosted by Robin and Edmund Jenner. The evening was billed as a Seasonal Beer Tasting, and was a highly informative run-through of the beers – and how and why they fit with certain seasons.

A trend of the past 30 or 40 years may have seen a diminishment of seasonal beers, with many ill-informed drinkers just quaffing the same generic industrial brews all year round, but Harveys is among the heritage breweries that maintains the tradition of varying production through the year.

The evening started, however, with Wild Hop, a 3.7% ABV light ale that’s a perfect light summer drink. I mentioned Wild Hop back after my tour of the brewery in June 2014, but Edmund told us more about the gestation of this beer, which they first produced in 2004 “in response to what we now call blonde ale.”

It’s made with Fuggles and Goldings hops in the boil, then dry-hopped with English grown Cascade, which are more modest in flavour and aroma than their New World counterparts. It also contains Sussex variety hops – which are a recent domestication of a wild variety, first discovered on the Sussex-Kent border. Ed explained how most wild hops simply don’t have the qualities required for brewing, but this hybrid proved perfect.

Fran, in her usual unique way, said the Wild Hop reminded her of Sindy dolls or Tiny Tears. Something in the aroma reminded her of nuzzled dollies as a child. I can’t say I could relate; maybe Action Man smelled very different.

Harveys beer tasting

Although Harveys vary their production during the year, their main year-round brew is their Best Bitter. It accounts for about 90% of their production now. Bitter and Best Bitter are quintessential English beers, and it would be easy to imagine we’ve been drinking them here for centuries. But Ed gave us more history. Harveys’ Best wasn’t produced in 1945 (instead they brewed 75% mild, 25% pale), only accounted for 7% of their production in 1955 and 45% in 1965. Today’s Best Bitter, in fact, only “re-evolved” after the Second World War.

Two wars seriously threatened Britain’s grain supplies, with convoys from North America harried by U-boats. When grain did get here, the priority was food, not booze. So barley wasn’t used in brewing so much and what was produced had lower gravity, and alcohol by volume. Brewers were required to keep gravity low, and indeed, the wars even resulted in the introduction of licensing hours to keep the war effort population more sensible in their booze consumption. Trends and tastes in beer change – mild is way out of fashion now – but war and law have also played a significant role too.

At the end of the evening we had a blend2 of Best and the Old Ale, and it was a cracker. I may be asking for this again, see if I can help encourage some pubs to start this practice again. Blending was the norm in British beer drinking until fairly recently.

As much as I love the Old Ale, the most pertinent beer we tasted last night was the South Downs Harvest. Like the wheat sheaf in my previous post, this is a celebration of the harvest, of autumn. It’s a light, biscuity golden ale – which is made with green hops, just harvested. As Ed said, it contains “something of this year’s summer.”

Among the other beers we tasted was Armada Ale, which was first brewed in 1988 to commemorate 400 years since the Spanish Armada. Harveys are great at such commemorative brews. Among their recent ones was the fascinating Priory Ale, brewed last year for the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes. I talked about this herby, historical brew here.

Last night Robin raised their Celebration Cocktail – with Priory Ale – and said it was to celebrate numerous things happening in 2015: 800 years since the Magna Carta, the birth of Anne of Cleves (who had a house in Lewes, which you can still visit, and was born 22 September 1515), 75 years since the Battle of Britain, 50 years since the development of the famed Maris Otter malt and even Harveys’ own 225th birthday.

So much history, mediated through the medium of beer. Harveys’ production of such beers encapsulate various elements of local and English history. Furthermore, as Ed reiterated, their beers get their character from their yeast, the same strain since 1957, and the water, taken from a borehole into the chalk aquifer. It’s rainwater filtered through chalk and as such has a unique mineral character. Have a pint of Harveys and that liquid is our history, our heritage and our environment. It’s a wonderful thing. With all this on offer, how anyone can drink characterless industrial beers I don’t know.

Notes
1. They’re called “Harvey’s”, though it’s more generally rendered as “Harveys” these days. Luckily, as a double possessive apostrophe is a bit painful: Harvey’s’.
2. I’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating. Blending beers is also out of fashion, but not at The Jolly Tanners in Staplefield, West Sussex, where Ed says they call the practice “tosspotting”. For those who don’t know this minor English word, a tosspot is an idiot or a drunkard. With “to toss” British slang for “to masturbate”. Apparently tosspot has its origins in the 1560s.

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Sardinian holiday – sun, scrub and craft beer

A beach on Isola Caprera, Sardinia. Pic: Fran Hortop

Last week we went to Sardinia for a holiday. During our two years in Rome we tried to explore Italy, but it’s a disparate, varied and not always easily connected country so we left with a long list of places we’d failed to reach. Sardinia was high on that list.

Our friend Annely recommended Maddalena archipelago in northeastern Sardinia. We plumped for it without too much agonising as it seemed to fit the bill for us – beach, some wilds, and a fairly easy journey.

The islands have a long historical association with the Italian navy, and even NATO (a US nuclear sub ran aground there in 2003; oops). There is still a navy presence there, but mostly the archipelago is defined by being a national park, and a destination for people who like to play about in boats. We don’t do the latter – instead we stuck with buses and hiking on Caprera, a largely unpopulated island to the east of La Maddalena island itself. Giuseppe Garibaldi, the great unifier, had a house there, and indeed we saw his deathbed on a tour. I was more interested in seeing his windmill and forno (oven), both perched on a rocky hilltop.

Garibaldi's forno (under tree on right) and mill (left,without sails)

Pleasant surprises
After our days wandering the scrubby, aromatic macchia*, with its thickets of wild lavender, helichrysum, juniper, myrtle and cork oak and lying around reading by turquoise seas, we went back to La Maddalena port. There, we were very happy to find that one bar had beers from a couple of Sardinian craft breweries. Funny really, as this place – Bar Fiume di Serra Francesco – looked very ordinary but had the interesting beers, while a hip bar a stone’s throw away just had industrial crap beer.

One of these is Ichnusa – a lager that pertains to be Sardinian, and brewed since 1912. Thing is, these days it’s owned by Heineken, and I’d challenge anyone to really distinguish between the two, or a dozen other best-selling industrial lagers, in a blind tasting.

Macchia scrub on Isola Caprera. Pic: Fran Hortop

Real Sardo beer
The real beers we tried were from Marduk Brewery and P3 Brewing Company. All the ones we tried were excellent, and a great reminder of how exciting Italian craft beer is.

I’m enjoying being back in Britain, and having access to our dual cultures of traditional, CAMRA-endorsed, cask-dispensed real ale and lively US-influenced craft beer, but I really miss Italian craft beer. It’s such a dynamic scene, partly influenced by Italy’s food and drink great traditions, partly free of them and able to be experimental.

I love how I can drink something like P3’s 50 Nodi (“50 knots”) and not only get a whiff of the heady juniper macchia we’ve just been walking in but also get a whole long trail of heritage. It’s an Italian beer that’s called an India Pale Ale, but really it’s an IPA in part inspired by US IPAs, which have themselves evolved from the less intense older British IPAs.

The spiel on these beers is such fun too. This one says it has “high notes of caramel and intense floral, citrus and exotic fruit perfumes”. Me and Fran got pineapple and Parma Violets, among other things. Furthermore, “Il suo carattere forte deriva da una miscela di luppoli inglesi, americani e neozelandesi che vi accompagneranno in un viaggio sensoriale ineguagliabile” – “It’s strong character derives from a mix of English, America and New Zealand hops that accompany you on an incomparable sensory voyage”! Love it. (Those hops are Simcoe, Pacific Jade, Citra, Goldings.)

P3 Riff and Marduk American Pale Ale

We also enjoyed P3’s Riff, which they call a “Session White IPA” and, along with two (barley) malts also contains wheat malt, wheat flakes and oat flakes, along with four hops of US and English origin: Fuggle, Styrian Golding, Willamette and Citra. And coriander. And orange zest. All of which makes its presence felt, but in a neatly balanced mix.

Grow your own
While P3 is in Sassari, Sardinia’s second-largest city, located in the northwest, Marduk, meanwhile, is in Irgoli, in the east. Their tagline says they’re a Birrificio agricolo – a farm-brewery, or words to that effect. Another blurb in Il Fiume’s menu about Marduk says, “Le nostre birre nascono da un’accurata selezione delle materie prime che produciamo direttamente in azienda” – that is, “Our beers are born from a careful selection of ingredients produced directly within the farm/business.”

Marduk label

They grow their own barley and “diverse varietà di luppolo” (“various types of hop”) to maintain a close control on the process – and food miles. I mean, we were about 60 miles (92km) away but it was the closest craft brewery. We tried their American Pale Ale and American IPA, which were both great, though surely an APA segues into an AIPA? And surely these are uniquely Italian pale ales now anyway?

My local brewery here in Lewes, Harveys, similarly sources its ingredients locally, but this is something fairly new in Italian brewing, as hops weren’t grown there. When we left La Maddalena we had one night in Olbia, and found a bar that claimed online to sell local craft beers. They didn’t, but they did have a bottle of Nazionale from Baladin.

Baladin is the brewery that both started the Italian craft brewing scene, and the owner of the bar in Rome that introduced me to it, so it was nice to have a Nazionale – which Baladin developed to be the “first 100% Italian beer made with Italian ingredients.”

Marduk American IPA aperitivo snack

So all in all, very pleasing beer drinking on holiday. Even more so as we were back in the land of the aperitivo snack. Now back in England, we went out for a few drinks for Fran’s birthday yesterday at the Brighton Beer Dispensary and while the beers were great, the table did seem a bit bare without a plate of cheeses, salumi and breads. While Fran loved the cured meat products, I enjoyed the local Sardinian crispbread, pane carasau, sprinkled with Sardinian pecorino and melted. So civilised.

(I’ve written two more posts about this holiday: second and third.)

 

 

* In English, we use the related French word maquis for this kind of scrub. Not much point us having a word for it I suppose, as we don’t have any – it’s specifically a Mediterranean environment.

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A London beer jaunt

Beers at Crate

Yesterday, I took a day away from the building site that is our home to visit London and sample some beers with my friend Russell, of Hooksmith Press. It being London Beer City, along with the Great British Beer Festival and the London Craft Beer Festival, it seemed almost rude to not go to London and drink beer.

Although I lived in London from 1997 to 2011, I already feel like an outsider, a country mouse, when I visit. All major cities have certain consistent qualities – a winding river, a dominant old building, a hill – but cities that launder channel large amounts of money also change fast. London is no exception. The number of ego monuments going up at the moment is extraordinary. London was never a highrise town, but the money men seem determined to turn it into one. It’s just plain weird – there are only so many empty offices and flats for the mega rich one city needs.

Back down on the ground, however, another way in which London is changing fast is its beer scene. Small independent breweries are popping up right, left and centre. Back when I lived in London, there were very few. Fuller’s had, somehow, survived the culls and takeovers*, and still operated as a fair-sized independent, offering beers like the easy drinking, organic golden Honey Dew that helped me transition to ale appreciation. While Fuller’s was founded in 1845, new breweries were rare. One that led the way was Meantime, which was founded in 2000. Where I lived in south London, meanwhile, The Florence pub in Herne Hill began producing its own beers on-site in 2007.

The new beer scene arguably took off in London, however, with The Kernel, which started brewing in 2009. The growth since then has been incredible. According to beer writer Des de Moor, “By the beginning of 2014, despite a few losses, there were well over 50 [breweries] – a quintupling of brewery numbers over five years.” All this happening after I’d left the city. No wonder I feel like an outsider now, with all these new buildings, and new beers.

The first place we went to was Russell’s local in Leytonstone, the grand Red Lion (640 High Road, Leytonstone, London E11 3AA). Even pubs like this exemplify how our beer culture has changed the past decade. Part of the Antic chain, it has an excellent selection of beers, keg, cask and bottle, including Meantime and The Kernel but also Beavertown (purveyors of my favourite recent beer, Gamma Ray), Camden Brewery and London Fields Brewery. I’d never had anything from the latter, which was founded in 2011, so tried their Love Not War, cask. It’s reddish, with a fairly full, chewy, malty body and a big slap of hops.

Ex-Olympics

Canalside
That second place we went to was Crate on Fish Island, Hackney Wick, east London. This is an area defined by old warehouses, canals, 2012 Olympics facilities seeming to lumber on the horizon like weary daikaiju, grafitti and hipsters. Lots of hipsters.

I suspect fairly quickly me and Russ felt old. We’re not, really – we’re half-way between the twenty-something hipsters and the sixty-something CAMRA crowd. Which isn’t a bad place to be, as I reckon it makes us old enough to have some knowledge, and some memories of when beer was really bad, but young enough to be receptive to extreme hop forwardiness, weird adjuncts, and even beer in kegs and cans.

Indeed, Russ is more inclined to colder, fizzier beers from kegs (at say 6C). Personally, I favour the Great British pint hand-pulled from a cask, carbonated by the live, active state of the yeast, and served at cellar temperatures (say 12C). Luckily, the real beer explosion the past few years, and particularly in well-served places like London, means we can both be satisfied in the same bars and pubs. The old guard might poo-poo all keg beer, but you can’t argue with the craftsmanship of these beers.

Fish Island

We were both broadly after more hoppy brews so the comparisons were interesting. To my mind, 6C is still a bit too cold, neutralising some of the aromas and flavours, but as Americans will always tell you, colder beer is more refreshing. I reckon a keg beer, clasped in body temperature hands (37C ish) will get to just about the right temperature when you’ve drunk half a pint.

Crate, a brewery with a canalside bar and pizzeria, has been open since 2012. We jumped over a fence and sat by the canal, which was remarkably clean and only partially cluttered with dilapidated barges. Russ informed me these were the local hipsters’ accommodation of choice, and that it wasn’t unusual for them to arrive at the bar from round the corner in mini speedboats. This really wasn’t my London at all. The beer was good though. My Pale Ale was rich and almost meaty in its taste, along with hints of coconut, pineapple. Russ had the IPA, which was also good… though a bit cold and fizzy initially. We had to agree to disagree on this one. Being a New Zealander Russ probably can’t help himself.

View of Crate

Re-branding
After Crate we wandered around Fish Island some more, checking out the new Truman’s brewery, with its sign saying “Established 1666 / Closed 1989 / Re-established 2010”. I’ve got mixed feelings about this. Truman’s was a familiar name growing up even if I didn’t drink it, but I do wonder whether it was really necessary to re-cycle an old brand when you’re joining a new era of brewing and asserting your own identity with new brews. We went round the corner to the brewery’s tap room, The Cygnet, on Swan Whaft, another canalside location with a similar hipster presence and cartoony, grafitti-ish wall art. Here, the hipster boy serving couldn’t do the mental arithmetic for the change from a £20 note from two £4 beers, and the beer Russ had was the only duffer we had that day. It was an NZ Pale from Hackney Brewery. It was packed with NZ hops, so we had to try it, but it was badly kept, posisbly spoiled, and far too warm – around room temp, 20C ish, despite the casks being wrapped in thermal skins. I had Truman’s Lazarus, a 42% ABV golden pale ale that was delicious. The site says, “Lazarus is our celebration of the rebirth of Truman’s”, which again seems slightly odd when it’s all about the quintessentially American Cascade and Chinook hops – not exactly characteristics of traditional English beer.

Trumans

Afterwards, we  headed across town to meet Fran at the Cask near Victoria. Thanks for the connections, orange Overland. Public transport as it should be: rationalised, wide-ranging, clean and functional. Why can’t more British trains be like this?

I’ve written about the Cask before, but wanted to visit this evening as their part of London Beer City was a New Brewery Showcase and Meet the Brewers event. Of the six breweries flagged up on the flyer, one was Burning Sky, one of my two most local in Lewes, while Atom is in Hull, with the remaining four – Strawman, Hammerton, Anspach & Hobday and Bullfinch – being in London. Although the first one I had was London Session, from London Beer Factory, an outfit based on West Norwood, southeast London. According to a post on A London Beer and Pub Guide from June 2014, “London brewery count rises to 70 with the addition of London Beer Factory, who have just started brewing.” The beer was good and wholesome, like apple crumble and custard.

Showcase at Cask

Next up I had Strawman’s 3.9% ABV Saison, from a keg. Russ said it tasted of pears and almonds. Along with bubblegum. And “soap – the kind of soap you get in a B&B” and “Parma Violets” according to Fran, who was drinking Bullfinch’s Rascal, a 4.8% ABV session IPA that was massively hoppy. The site says it’s “Currently featuring Kazbek, Simcoe, Ahtanum and Colombus hops”.

Russ was drinking Burning Sky at my recommendation, but as I generally drink either Burning Sky or Harveys when I’m at home I was favouring the London brews. Though I did get to meet Burning Sky’s brewer, Mark Tranter.

I think we started losing track a bit by this point. Not because we were especially sozzled, but more because we were busy chatting, as we’d not seen Russ for years. And eating. The Cask is the only place I’ve ever been that can make the non-meat burger equivalent that is a mushroom in a roll into something really good, with stacks of halloumi. (I won’t call it “the vegetarian option” as just cos you eat meat doesn’t mean you always have to choose meat; I eat meat, but fancied halloumi more.)

Cask tariff

Our last round was all about the hops, with some almost eye-wateringly bitter beers. We had Hammerton’s N7 Pale Ale, which Fran said was reminiscent of “sweaty armpits”; then Anspach & Hobday’s The IPA; and Atom’s This Is IPA. Lots of astringency, sweat and sweeties, specifically pear drops.

Personally, I’d say the latter two were actually APAs, or British APAs, BAPAs, not IPAs. IPAs simply aren’t that aggressive, or at least they weren’t historically. It’s all in flux, and very dynamic. And really, with this half-day wander round London, guided by Russ, I barely even began to scratch the surface of what’s been happening since I moved out of London. I’m not sure how often I can justify going up to London to booze, but each time I do, the prospect of yet more new beers and new breweries is exciting. Sure all these places won’t last, and things will have to bed down to match the market, but what amazing times. It’d almost be possible to forget most of Britain is still dominated by shit industrial lager.

 

 

* CAMRA probably played a notable role in this survival. It had been founded in 1971 and within five years was a significant, influential body. In ‘Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer’ Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey write, of CAMRA’s mid-1970s successes, “The rot had been stopped, and breweries such as Young’s and Fuller’s were no longer simply under threat but were booming.”

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Bad memories, skunkiness and the question of beer in cans

Beaverton Gamma

For many drinkers of real beer, the implications of cans are almost too terrible to contemplate. They certainly are for me. Cans remind me of buying cheapo industrial lager just to get drunk in the Winchester Cathedral Grounds as a teenager. As well as associating canned beer with vile industrial lagers, I always associated them with a metallic taste. I assumed this was not necessarily the vile industrial lager itself, but the packaging.

But all that’s changing. The challenge now is changing such preconceptions.

It is strange how abiding a prejudice can be, but if you learned to drink by consuming vile industrial lagers (or indeed snakebites), frequently from cans, and have memories of puking and hangovers, the psychology isn’t that complex. It’s just a kind of self-inflicted aversion. It worked too: I didn’t drink from the age of 18 to 24.

Times change
Anyway, the past few years, I’ve been increasingly encountering real beers, in cans. Initially I bridled when I was served  Angry Peaches from Garage Project in a can in a restaurant in Wellington, but this New Zealand take on an APA turned out to be delicious, and one of the best beers I had in NZ.

Angry Peaches meal md

More recently I’ve encountered a couple of other interesting beers in cans. When we were in Rome a few weeks ago, hanging out at Tram Depot in Testaccio, I was drinking Steamer (7.6% ABV). But it wasn’t as good as I remembered: I appreciate its depth of flavour and body, but it’s not well-integrated and always seems to be over-carbonated. Its recipe needs some tweaking. So I wanted to try the other real beer they were offering, something not quite as strong (it had been a long day, a long hot day of boozing and eating). This turned out to be something called Kurt (4.32% ABV), and not Italian but Swiss. I didn’t even know Switzerland had a craft beer scene.

Kurt 1

It was nominally from a brewery called Bad Attitude. Aside from any irony inherent in this name, the Bad Attitude set-up is a bit confusing. It also seems to be Ticino Brewing Company (aka Birrificio Ticinese in Italian, as the Ticino is Switzerland’s predominantly Italian-speaking canton). Which also seems to be related to another brand, Birra San Martino. The latter’s site says they were founded in 2002, but have called themselves Birrificio Ticinese since 2010. They’re all at the same address in the town of Stabio, but I can’t work out why they exist as three brands.

As for the straw-coloured beer itself, it was a bit weird. Despite being made with two hops from one of my favourite parts of the world – Riwaka and Motueka, both places in the north of South Island NZ – and some great British Marris Otter malt, most of all I got a coconut flavour. It’s not that I dislike coconut especially, but I just didn’t like it in a pale ale flavour profile. I know some beers have coconut as an adjunct, but Kurt didn’t, so I’d guess it came from an ester, those chemical compounds that give beers so many diverse flavours and aromas.*

Kurt 2

Retro-futuristic
The most recent beer I’ve had in a can I drunk in the beautiful evening sun last night. This was Gamma Ray from Beavertown. This was the beer I’ve tried from this brewery, set up in London in 2011, and it was very enjoyable indeed.

I do love British APAs – they tend to have the decisive characteristics of the more aromatic US hops but balanced with our traditional love of beers defined more by their maltiness. In this case the hops were Amarillo, Columbus, Bravo and Magnum (“added in ever increasing amounts at the end of the boil and in the fermenter”), though the bitterness was surprisingly minimal, without any particularly dry mouthfeel. The beer was rounded out and sweetened with not one but three malts, Simpsons Best, Caragold and Caramalt. Excellent.

Gamma can 1

The experience was enhanced by the can’s awesome wraparound wide-screen design, a kind of retro-SF horror tableau of goldfish bowl-helmeted spacemen being zapped into skullfacedness by flying saucers. Love it. Indeed, on an aesthetic level, one of the great points about cans is how they design can go 360 like this, unlike with the traditional front and back labels of bottles.

Cans versus bottles
The main arguments for using cans, however, are more practical. Mostly made from aluminum, they’re simply a lighter weight material and as such involve much less energy when transported, compared to glass bottles. From both me lugging stuff home from Twenty One Wines in Brighton in a bag to massive trucks carrying it around on roads, or shipments moving internationally (something that’s arguably absurd given that beer is mostly water, but that’s another argument). Furthermore, a bottle, when used once, involves a lot more energy to manufacture and then recycle – assuming people bother to even recycle.

The other big argument for cans is that they protect the beer from light damage. The traditional brown glass bottle protects the beer from light damage to some extent, but for those companies that insist on packaging in green or clear glass, the beer will spoil, will get lightstruck when left in daylight. The UV causes a reaction resulting in what’s called “skunkiness” – that is, a chemical process creates a molecule that’s closely related to those in skunk spray.

As for the issue of the beer getting a metallic taste, so synonymous with cheapo bad lager, most cans used for beer these days have a thin inner lining so there’s no contact between beer and aluminium. Certainly all my recent experiences with “tinnies” have been entirely free of metallic hauntings and the ensuing teenage flashbacks.

So I’ll definitely be happy to drink real beer in cans now. Which is good, as it’s becoming increasingly common. This US NPR article quote says, “five years ago, just a few dozen craft brewers in the US were canning, while today there are more than 500.” So expect to see more here in the UK too.

Having said that though, probably 60 per cent of the beer I drink at home is from my local (800m away) brewery, Harveys. Their (brown) bottled beer is sold with a deposit, so I just take them back and they reuse them. But most people don’t have a local brewery with such an enlightened (nay, sensibly old-fashioned – we always did the same with milk in Britain when things were more localised) approach. So for the abovementioned reasons, there’s probably no reason to poo-poo cans any more. Even if you’re particularly hardcore about your real beer requirements. The Gamma Ray for example was in a can and unpasteurised and unfiltered.

 

 

* My friend Michele, a food scientist and brewer, suggests the coconut odour and taste may come from one of two chemicals: from the molecule d-Decalattone  (C10H18O2) or from an ethyl group of chemicals (–C2H5), which are derived from ethane (C2H6). Srangely, the latter can present with odours of coconut, or pear, or wine.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Breweries, British beer, Discussion

A week in Rome: Etruscan necropolis, Etrusca beer

Stone beds at Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri

We didn’t spend out entire holiday just eating and drinking. I made a point of doing a few day trips. One was to the Etruscan necropolis – city of the dead – of Banditaccia, a train ride, a bus ride and a surprisingly pleasant walk from Cerveteri, a town near the coast to the nortwest of Rome.

Banditaccia is such an evocative name. It makes me think of bandits and other unsavoury rural types using the old underground chambers (hypogea) to hide away in the middle ages. It’s quite likely they did too, though I can’t report that as fact.

The necropolis was established at the beginning of the 7th century BC, at least. I love this – you wander round Rome going “Wow, Colosseum…” but that particular monument only dates from the 1st century AD. Etruscan civilisation, which gave its name to Tuscany, was already remarkably sophisticated when Romulus and Remus were still just dirty wolf-boys shouting at each other, mythically, from huts on the adjacent hilltops of the Palatine and Aventine.

Etruscan pot, Cerveteri museum

Cerveteri, called Caere by the Etruscans and located a mile from Banditaccia, has a museum in the castle that dominates the centre of town. Even after all the best finds from excavations were filched by the Vatican, it’s still full of amazing finds, mostly ceramics. They show how closely the Etruscans traded through the Med, notably with the Greeks, as the art style is similar, as are the gods and mythological characters featured.

Multimedia hypogea
Visiting the tombs themselves, and imagining how they would have looked decorated with these urns and other funerary furnishings, is an amazing experience. The place was pretty much deserted when we visited, so a staff member was able to turn on multimedia installations for us in three of the hypogea. I have mixed feelings about all the holes in the tuff volcanic rock drilled so they could install projectors and speakers, but the systems work surprisingly well, lighting up the tombs and giving a sense of how these spaces were used.

What struck me, even centuries later, with the tombs mostly denuded of their decorations, is how homely they are. And this is just the point. The Etruscans created the necropolises as mirror images of the cities of the living. Each hypogeum was a home for several generations of family. The dead were initially body wrapped in cloth, then buried, or burned and put in urns. The hypogea consist of rooms with stone beds, and some even feature incredible decorations. The most famous example is Banditaccia’s Tomb of the Reliefs – amazing 3D designs of tools and utensils, for war and domestic work: those two most important activities of the living.

Tomb of the Reliefs, Banditaccia, Cerveteri (Photo: Fran Hortop)

As Fran pointed out, the notion of the tombs being the mirror image of homes is also expressed by the fact that these spaces, firstly large, rounded tumuli, then later in rows much like terraced housing, were carved out of the tuff. It was a process of creating a living space for the dead by hollowing out spaces in the ground. This contrasts with building a home above ground, creating space by erecting walls and roofs.

Terraced tombs, Banditaccia, Cerveteri

It’s interesting too that although the Roman Republic eventually subsumed Etruria, the final three kings of the Roman Kingdom were an Etruscan dynasty (in the 7th-6th centuries BC, though this period isn’t well documented). And as they had so much common culture, the guide we spoke to said the Romans respected the Etruscan funerary arrangements enough to leave the necropolises alone, even after they had effectively quashed their civilisation. Indeed, there were still new tombs being carved in the 3rd century AD. It was only later they were semi-forgotten, becoming overgrown. Although some did provide strange cave-like spaces for shepherds – and bandits? – over the centuries, most were lost and the area resembled a series of lumps and small hills in the 19th century, before Raniero Mengarelli started his systematic excavations in 1909.

Tumulus Etruscan tomb, Banditaccia, Cerveteri

It’s a wonderful place, right up there with Ostia Antica for my favourite ancient sites in Italy: partly because these two are just undersubscribed compared to the better-known Pompey and Herculaneum, but also partly because Banditaccia has a reminded me of its fellow UNESCO site Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Banditaccia – or at least what’s been excavated – is a lot smaller but both have a similar substantialness and sense of mystery. Angkor Wat is a lot more recent (dating from the 11th-15th centuries AD) but I love these places where ancient stones have trees growing through the weathered old stonework, itself carved with sheer manpower.

Etruscan beer
After visiting Banditaccia we went beer shopping and it seemed only right to get a bottle of Birra del Borgo’s Etrusca “archeo birra”.

Borgo Etrusca label

Etrusca is actually the name of three beers, first made during a fascinating project in 2012 by Birra del Borgo (in Lazio, east of Rome), Baladin brewery (in Piedmont, NW Italy) and Dogfish Head (in Delaware, US). The brewmasters of all three worked with Dr Patrick McGovern, an archaeology professor and director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, who had worked on various other ancient ale projects previously with Dogfish Head.

Together they established a list of ingredients that were consumed by the Etruscans. The Baladin site says, “Under Dr Pat’s supervision, ingredients have been selected on the basis of the findings made at several Italian archaeological sites.” According to a post on the Dogfish Head site, meanwhile, “the team clearly found that the Etruscans had a taste for ale.”

I know the ancient Romans drank beer, so it’s not a stretch to imagine the Etruscans did too true. Although grain-based beer is more associated with northern Europe, grain was of course grown in ancient Italy too, and the Dogfish site continues “The backbone of Birra Etrusca comes from two-row malted barley and an heirloom Italian wheat.” This wheat is ‘Senatore Cappelli’, which I saw in several Italian craft beers on this recent visit.

Italian society never underwent the seismic changes experienced in Britain during our comprehensive industrial revolution. Nor did it embrace as fully as Britain or the US the post-war approaches to agriculture based on rejecting ancient practices in favour of plying farmland with tonnes and tonnes and endless tonnes of petrochemical industry derived fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. Plus, pockets of mountainous Italy remain isolated to this day. Unlike Britain, where we rejected our heritage grains in favour of modern varieties bred by agri-corporations to thrive with said chemicals, Italy still grows some of the same varieties of grain it has grown for centuries. Cappelli, however, arguably isn’t such a grain: it was selectively bred from Tunisian ‘Jenah Rhetifah’ durum wheat at the start of the 20th century. It’s conjecture, but ‘Jenah Rhetifah’ may have ancient heritage, and may indeed have been related to grain traded or cultivated by the Etruscans. I don’t know; I need to consult an expert more. Or find some funding to bloody well do a PhD!

Weird and wonderful
The beer also contains various other weird and wonderful ingredients, based on, according to the Baladin site, “research carried out on Etruscan habits, as they would [have] spiced fermented drinks with hazelnut flour, pomegranate and pomegranate juice, honeys, sultanas, natural resin and gentian root”. The “natural resin” in question is probably what the Dogfish site refers to as “the sarsaparilla-like Ethiopian myrrh resin.” The myrrh and gentian are the bittering agents, though the recipe does also include a “handful of whole-flower hops”.

Recording cultivation of hops in Europe didn’t come until centuries later, though as Humulus lupulus is native to Eurasia and north Africa there’s the chance it was utilised by the Etruscans. Wondering about this, I sent an email to Dr McGovern, the “Indiana Jones of ancient ales, wines, and extreme beverages”. Though busy on a lecture tour in Australia he kindly replied and said, “There is some evidence of hops being found in association with beverages at Etruscan sites, but not much.” I’ve just ordered his most recent book, ‘Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages’ (Berkeley: University of California, 2009) so perhaps that will tell me more. Check out the article ‘The Brewing of Etrusca Beer’ via Dr Pat’s site here (a PDF download) as it gives more detail of the procedure, while a second article on the same page, ‘Ancient Italic Beer The archaeological finds at Pombia (NO), discusses the evidence of hop usage in this era, though it refers to finds from a “proto-Celtic” population in Piedmont/Piemonte, nortern Italy, that is north of ancient Etruria.

Birra del Borgo's Etrusca

So what does it taste like?
Evaluating the experience of drinking a beer like this is tricky as the story of its genesis is so fascinating it’s potentially distracting. Not only was the recipe created with Dr Pat’s expert input, but the three breweries used different materials for the ferment. Dogfish used some bronze plates in in the vats, Baladin used wooden barrels, and Borgo used specially made terracotta jars. This is appropriate given the importance of terracotta for storing liquids in ancient Italy. We were staying in Testaccio, and drank our bottle of Etrusca there, a mere 100m or so from Monte Testaccio, which is also known as Monte dei cocci – which could be translated as “Hill of the earthenware shards”. Yes, the hill is a massive mound of broken ancient Roman amphorae.

Suitably enough, given our day trip, Fran said the beer, which is a pale, cloudy golden colour, “smells like an old cave somewhere”, with all that nuttiness, fruit and fermentation giving a certain mustiness.

Dammit can't read the label

Fran got more earthy smells from it – mushrooms, humus (leaf litter not chickpea). I got a more sharp, sauerkraut smell, with honey. The taste was sour, honey, balsamic, metallic. Fran thought it tasted like fermented tomato juice: not that she’s ever drunk that, as far as I know, but it did have a certain minerally, Bloody Mary quality.

It’s not a beer to spend a relaxing evening with, perhaps, but it’s unique. I wish I could try the Dogfish Head version, but I’ve never seen any of their ales for sale in Italy or the UK, sadly. The comparison would be interesting, and Dr Pat says that he finds the “pomegranate and myrrh are more pronounced and better integrated” with the Dogfish version.

Either way, I love these historical experiments, like Harveys’ Priory Ale from earlier this year, commemorating a slightly more recent bit of history, the Battle of Lewes 750 years ago. Dogfish Head has produced a series of these experimental brews, with their most recent collaboration with Dr McGovern a prehistoric-style Nordic ale they’re called Kvasir. There’s more about their working process, and why we lost our inclination to make such diverse brews, in an article on The Atlantic’s site here.

So anyway, Etruscan remains, Etrusca archaeological ale recreations: what a great day. And far too long a post. I was planning to mention a few other beers I tried on the trip but that will have to wait.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Breweries, Discussion, Italian beer, Misc, Rome

Fritti, pizza, local Sussex booze – and chocolate pine nut ricottta tart

Slice with strawbs and cream

We’d been planning a pizza and local beer evening with friends here in Lewes, Sussex, for a while. This evolved into a pizza, local beer, local wine, local cider and Roman-style fried starters (fritti) evening, with the latter becoming viable after we borrowed a deep fat fryer.

We started the evening with an aperitivo of kir royales made with sparkling wine from Breaky Bottom, one of several vineyards we’re lucky enough to have near us on the chalk South Downs. I tried not to drink too much though, as I was driving the deep fat fryer.

Breaky Bottom

Missing these things from Rome, we did suppli al telefono, which are deep-fried balls of risotto with melting mozzarella inside; carciofi alla giudia, Romano-Jewish deep-fried artichokes, which I’d never done before, but worked very well (you trim the artichoke, remove the choke, then deep-fry it. Then deep-fry it again); and calamari fritti – fried squid bits, which I simply floured with semolina.

Fritti

Seasonal pizza
For the pizzas, I did about 2kg of dough. Here it is before and after its 24 hour prove. It was a monster.

Pizza doughPizza dough, after final prove

Then we made four different topping. One thing we learned from Gabrieli Bonci in Rome is to not be afraid to experiment with toppings, not be a slave to the canonical pizzas, and to use seasonal ingredients. It’s a great time of year for seasonal produce, so alongside the artichokes, the markets also furnished us with other good stuff like asparagus and radicchio. Here’s our pizza menu, typos and all.

Pizza menu

We were so busy trying to bake them and serve them – and drink our way through a very fine selection of further wines, cider and beer – we forgot to take any pics. The booze included Danebury Vineyards’ Madeline Angevine white (not Sussex, but Hampshire, though bought from Harveys) and various beers from Harveys and Long Man, the brewery named after the giant figure on the hillside at Wilmington, about 10 miles east of Lewes.

We did do one classic pizza, a Margherita, but otherwise we used seasonal ingredients and local cheeses and meats. For the latter, we used some smoked pancetta from Beal’s Farm Charcuterie, combined with local asparagus. The other two pizzas we did were bianche – white, that is, without tomato sauce. This is commonplace in Rome, but international pizza all seems to default to rossa (red), with tomato sauce. First, we did radicchio, fresh garlic and two cheeses from High Weald Dairy: their ricotta and Medita, a salty feta-style sheep’s milk cheese. Second, we did roasted baby leeks with mozzarella and Twineham Grange, a local parmesan-style cheese, aged for 15 months, which satisfies my need for a local cheese that’s good for grating on pasta dishes etc. We did use bog-standard mozzarella throughout, as no one’s making a Sussex version. Yet.*

Pie!
After all that fried food and stodge, what else did the meal need? Ah yes, fat and sugar. A dessert. After making a pine nut tart recently, I’ve been wondering about a chocolate version. As, like any sane person, I adore chocolate. Plus, we’d seen the High Weald ricotta on the market.

Side, through glass cloche

Anyway, the chocolate pine nut ricotta tart is based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis, granddaughter of the legendary film producer Dino and iconic actress Silvana Mangano. The original recipe was in cup measures. I tried translating these to grams using online charts, as well as using actual cup measuring spoons: each approach gave me completely different weights. This is why I’m not a fan of cups – for flour, especially, they’re inaccurate, as there’s the question of how compacted the powder is.

The resulting pastry was very crumbly and impossible to roll, so I effectively filled the bottom of a loose-bottom cake tin with it, as you would with biscuit crumbs for a cheesecake. Indeed, this is basically a type of cheesecake, though the filling is dense and very rich. After all that fritti and pizza and booze it was perhaps a bit much – or at least a big slice was a bit much. Perhaps it’d be a more suitable end to a slightly lighter meal!

You’ll need a food processor for this recipe.

Pastry
200g plain flour
20g polenta
100g pine nuts, toasted
35g caster sugar
Pinch salt
120g butter, melted and cooled slightly

Filling
110g water
150g caster sugar
225g dark chocolate, chopped
200g ricotta
8og full-fat cream cheese
3 eggs
100g pine nuts

1. To make the pastry, combine the plain flour, polenta, 35g sugar, salt and 100g toasted pine nuts in a food processor, blending until the nuts are well ground.
2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is well combined. It’s unlikely it’ll ball up like a normal pastry dough.
3. Use the mix to line a 26cm loose-bottomed tin. I used a cake tin, though a flan or pie tin would work.
4. Put the pastry case in the fridge for at least half an hour, or for a day or so if you make it in advance.
5. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan).
6. Line the pastry case with baking parchment then fill with baking beans.
7. Bake for about 25 minutes, then remove the beans and parchment and bake for another 10 minutes until golden.
8. Allow the pie case to cool while you prepare the filling.
9. Heat the water and 150g sugar in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
10. Over a separate pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, avoiding contact with the water.
11. Beat together the eggs.
12. Using a hand blender or the food processor again, combine the ricotta and cream cheese, then slowly add the egg.
13. Continue beating or processing until smooth.
14. Slowly add the sugar syrup, beating or processing until all combined.
15. Pour the filling into the pastry case and bake, at the same temperature, until almost set – check at about 15 minutes.
16. Sprinkle the other, non-toasted pine-nuts over the top then continue baking until it’s all set and the pine-nuts are nicely toasted, another 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven.
17. Allow to cool and serve. We served it with some cream and macerated strawberries.

Cloche

A note on the food matching
Although we and our guests put together a great collection of local boozes, after the initial aperitivo I stuck with Harveys’ Knots of May. This is a seasonal light mild, reddish-brown in colour and only 3%, which I bought direct from cask at Harveys in a 4 pint / 2.4 litre plastic jug, aka container, aka rigger, aka growler, aka polysomething or other.

It’s a delicious beer, but I’m not sure its malty sweetness made for the best food pairing with the fritti and pizza. Something a little more acid or bitter might have been better for cutting through the fattiness of the cheese etc.

It did, however, work well with the desert. I’m still blundering uncertainly through the beer and food matching business but that malty sweetness, and light, low body, went well with the dense, chocolately pudding.

Little brown jug - empty

 

* There is a British buffalo mozzarella being made these days, from my home county of Hampshire, just to the west. I’ve yet to try it. Plus, mozzarella di bufala is far too good – and pricey – to use for melting directly on pizza. For that you use the standard cow milk mozzarella, known as fior di latte (“flower of milk”, “milk flower”) in Italy. Bufala is best added after the end comes out of the oven and allowed to melt just slightly with the latent heat.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Baking, Pies & tarts

Types of beer

Are innumerable: even the key styles have sub-varieties, or the names may have changed meaning over time and distance, or the same style may have different names in different languages or dialects, just to add to the muddle.

This list is just an attempt to consolidate my knowledge. I’ll keep adding to it, either as I learn more, or realise I’ve forgotten stuff, or when people correct me. Or to add images.

Abbey
Belgian beers in vein of Trappist beers, but without the official monastic supervision.

Ale
Generic term for beers that are made with top fermenting yeasts at warmer temperatures. Historically, ales were unhopped but not any more. Not for a long while.

Altbier
“Old beer”, a German (specifically Düsseldorf and Westphalia) dark ale.

Amber
Coppery ales that derive their colour from crystal malts.

American IPA
US evolution of the English IPA. Big, aromatic, bitter ales made with the distinctively citrussy, resiny West Coast US hop varieties: Cascade, Amarillo, Chinook, Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus. The quintessential beer of the craft beer movement.

APA
American pale ale. “The first true American craft-beer style, this took inspiration from the pale beers brewed in Europe and then made them American by using the hugely fruity hops grown the West Coast of the United States.” (Mark Dredge). On a spectrum with pale ales and American IPAs.

Barley wine
A fairly generic term, but basically an English style of strong ale, with 8% ABV plus. Indeed, at 12% some have a comparable strength to grape wine.

Bière de Garde
“Beer for keeping”, strong ale from Pas de Calais, equivalent to Belgian saison beers.

Bitter
Synonymous with English pale ale. Ales with wide variation in colour and strength, but most typically around 5% and golden-brown. By modern standards not especially bitter or hoppy, more defined by mellow maltiness.

Bière blanche
See witbier (below).

Blonde
Generic term for light, golden coloured pale ales of varying malt and hop profiles.

Bock
Strong German lager. The name, purportedly, derives from accent and dialect variables in Germany, where the place where the style originated – Einbeck – became ein bock (“a billy goat”). Variables include doppelbock (see below).

Brown ale
Fairly generic term for a sweet, brown generally mild, lower alcohol ale. More specifically an English ale type, originally.

Doppio malto
Italian birra doppio malto (“double malt ale”) can be seen as the equivalent of English strong ales or even some barley wines, or strong Belgian abbey beers, or Trappist dubbels. Italian beers are classified as analcolica (non-alcoholic, though technically low-alchohol), leggera(light) or normale, speciale and doppio malto, with each category defined by its gradi plato – a measurement of density.

Dubbel
“Double”. Medium to strong brown Trappist ale.

Dopplebock
Dark, maltier version of bock (see above).

Dunkel
“Dark” in German, and used to refer to various dark lagers. More typical of Bavaria. Malty, not as strong as dopplebocks.

ESB
Extra special bitter. An English brewer’s highest original gravity bitter, after session/ordinary bitter (lower) and special/best bitter (middling).  Synonymous with premium bitter.

Faro
A type of lambic (see below). Made by blending  a lambic and a young, sweetened beer.

Frambozen, framboise
Dutch/Belgian raspberry lambic (see below).

Fruit beer
Any beer that uses fruit adjuncts. May be whole fruit, purées or juices. Kriek cherry lambic is a fruit beer, for example, but others may be more convention brews augmented with fruit ingredients.

Geuze, gueuze
A type of well-carbonated Belgian lambic, made with blend of older (2-3 years) and young lambics.

Golden ale
Generic term for light golden ales, sometimes used synonymously with “blonde”. Arguably, golden ales have less body, and are crisper, more like lagers.

Hefeweizen
“Yeast wheat” in German. A type of wheat beer with low hoppiness, high carbonation, phenolic clove aromas. See also kristallweizen.

Helles
“Bright” in German. Distinguishes this lager from dunkel. Munich pale lager inspired by Czech pilsners.

IPA
India Pale Ale. Now a varied style (see American IPA) but original English versions were less punchy, made with older, mellower English hop varieties. The hoppiness originally developed out of necessity – its preservative quality allowed the ale to survive the long journey to British imperial India without going off.

Imperial stout, Russian Imperial stout
Strong (9% ish ABV) dark beer style first brewed in 18th century England for export to Russia. Brewing industry veteran Ian Swanson, teacher at the Beer Academy, said it was a case of the ships needing ballast as they went to Russia and brought back timber.

Kolsch, Kölsch, Koelsch
A light, lager-like top fermented beer from Cologne (Köln), Germany. Becoming popular as it’s easily accessible to lager drinkers, but is quicker to make, not requiring lagering (cold store conditioning).

Kriek
A type of Belgian lambic made with sour cherries.

Kristallweizen
A type of wheat beer: a hefeweizen that’s been filtered for brightness.

Lager
Generic term for beers that are made with bottom-fermenting yeasts at colder temperatures, and involve a cold “lagering” (literally “storage” in German) conditioning period, originally in caves or tunnels.Where caves or tunnels weren’t an option, winter ice was used to cool the cellars. This was superceded by refridgeration in the 1870s. Lagers were first brewed in Britain in Glasgow and Wrexham in the 1880s, but didn’t really start to take over until the 1960s. Despite German (etc) pride in lagers, it’s the culprit for some of the worst crimes against beer in its long history, and the reason I stopped drinking for years as a teenager in the late 1980s. Shockingly for a country with such an important ale history, the biggest selling beer in Britain since 1985 is a generic industrial lager. Mentioning no names. …. Carling.

Lambic
Distinctive beer style specifically from Pajottenland region of Belgium (southwest of Brussels). Relies on spontaneous fermentation and wild yeasts (like Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces lambicus) and lactobacilli, and as such is very different to other beer styles with their tightly controlled yeast strains. Various sub-varieties, like kriek, geuze, faro. 30% unmalted wheat. Winey and sour flavours. Hops used for preservation not bitterness, so often old and intentionally cheesy. Aged in sherry and wine barrels.

Märzen, Märzenbier, Marzen
A malty lager originally from Bavaria though now more generic.

Mild
Low gravity, malty beer from England. “Mild” originally referred to a young, fresh beer, as opposed to a more flavoursome old, or stale, beer but more recently can mean “mildly hopped.” X to XXXX strengths, historically.

Milk stout
A variable of stout (see below), made with lactose (milk sugar). Lactose is unfermentable so the resulting beers have a thick, creamy body with lower ABVs.

NZ draft, NZ draught
Common New Zealand beer style. A malty, minimally hopped brown lager with ABV around 4-5%.

Oatmeal stout
Stout made with oats alongside the malt, adding a smoothness.

Oktoberfest, Oktoberfestbier
Traditionally Märzen lagers brewed in March and largered to October. Now a registered trademark of six members of the Club of Munich Brewers.

Old ale
Name for dark, malty British ales, generally 5% ABV plus. Originally contrasted with mild ales.

Oud bruin
“Old brown”. From the Flemish region of Belgium, a malty brown ale with sour notes due to an atypically long aging process.

Pale ale
Generic term for ales produced with pale malts. English bitters, IPAs, APAs and Scotch ales are all variations on pale ale.

Pilsener, Pilsner, Pils
Type of pale lager that originated in the Bohemian city of Plzeň (Pilsen), now in the Czech Republic. Now many lagers made outside of Pilsen are considered pilseners.

Porter
Originally a dark, nutritious ale drunk by London porters in the 18th century, made with dark brown malts . A strong porter was a “stout porter”, though now the terms are almost interchangeable.

Pumpkin beer
US style, made with pumpkin flesh and often unveiled ceremoniously in the Autumn. Often spiced with pumpkin pie spices: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. A type of vegetable beer.

Rauchbier
“Smoked beer” from Bamberg, Germany. Made with malt dried oven an open flame.

Roggenbier
A Bavarian type of rye beer with light, dry, spicy taste. Brewed with same yeast as hefeweizen (see above).

Rye beer
Beers featuring rye alongside the more typical malt (malted barley). See roggenbier.

Saison
A fairly generic French term (“season” ) for strong-ish pale ales. Saison beer evolved in the farms of Wallonia, French-speaking Belgium, where it was brewed in late winter, and stored for drinking by farm workers slaving away at the harvest and whatnot.

Schwarzbier
“Black beer”. German term for dark lagers made with dark malts.

Scotch ale
Scottish style of pale ale, malty but lightly hopped. Also known as “wee heavy”, apparently. May feature peaty or smoked malts, often fairly strong (6-9% ABV).

Session
Not so much a style as a strength: weak-ish beers (4% ABV or less, generally) than can be drunk fairly copiously in a “session”. Generally more about the (US, citrussy) hops than the malt.

Smoked beer
Beers made with smoked malt – which is dried with open fire. Not a fan.

Stout
Originally a British term to describe strong beer, such as “pale stout” or “stout porter.” Evolved and muddled up with porter, and came to be another name for dark (black-ish) ales. Remained popular in early 20th century when porters all but died out, before its revival in the 1970s.

Trappist
Beer produced by, or under the supervisor of, Trappist monks. As of 2014, there are 10 Trappist beer producers, mostly in Belgium, but also in Netherlands, US and Austria. Chimay most famous. Various top-fermented styles, classified as Enkel (single), Dubbel and Tripel.

Tripel
“Triple”, strongest of the Trappist beers.

Vegetable beer
Any beer that’s made with vegetable ingredients – like the US pumpkin beers. Another popular vegetable beer flavouring ingredient is chili pepper. Even though it’s technically a fruit (see fruit beer).

Vienna
Local equivalent of dunkel or schwarzbier, that is a dark lager.

Weissbier
“White beer” in Bavarian. A category of wheat beers that includes hefeweizens.

Weizen
“White” in German. Wheat beers, same as weissbier basically but a different dialect name.

Wheat beer
Beers (usually ales, see above) made with a high proportion of wheat – at least 50% – along with the malt.

Witbier
“White beer”, aka “bière blanche”. Wheat beer from the Netherlands and Belgium (predominantly). Tends to be hazy when cold, due to yeast and wheat proteins suspended in the liquid. Mostly feature gruit: a Dutch term (grute in German) for blends of herbs, spices and fruit used for flavouring and preserving certain continental beers prior to the popularisation of hops in the middle ages. Today these may well involve coriander and orange zest.

It’s one big happy fermented family! Pop Chart Lab, a Brooklyn-based design team have done some excellent visualisations of it, here and (a newer version) here.

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Thin air, good beer

And a little sunburn.

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

We’re currently in Estes Park, on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, an area just recovering from terrible floods in September. Today we’ve had an icy walk around a lake at 2888m (9475ft), played some crazy golf and stocked up on beer from Estes Park Brewery, which is at an altitude of 2292m (7522ft). This tickled me as Dartmoor Brewery claims to be “England’s highest brewery” – at 1465ft, that is 447 in sensible, modern metre measures.

Baby Bugler 2 pint bottles of Estes Park Porter (left) and Redrum Ale (right), with Rockies sunset

The air is thin for us lowlanders, but the beer is good, especially when drunk on the veranda of our cabin with the sun setting and coyotes howling. (It’s also the elk rut and we’ve had a lot of their eerie bugling. I even cooked dinner on our first night here with these massive deer grazing just outside the window.)

The Shining Ale, Estes Park brewery

Really enjoying the brewery’s amber ale, named Redrum ale. Yep, we’re in The Shining territory. Stephen King was inspired to write his classic story while staying in room 217 at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. The brewery even does a The Shining beer to further milk the connection – especially in this run-up to Halloween, a festival that reaches bonkers proportions in the US, compared to the UK’s more traditional shifting of Samhain/All Souls’ Day/Halloweeny activities to Bonfire Night, 5 November.

Tomorrow we head downhill again, but only to Boulder – a town that’s already a mile high. And has 25 breweries within county limits. I don’t think we’ll be visiting them, as we need more child friendly activities, but maybe I’ll be able to try a few brews in passing.

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Filed under Ale, beer, American beer, Misc, Travelling

Post number 100, a celebration of Italian craft beer, and getting ready to leave Rome

Italian craft beers

According to WordPress’s strange date conventions I started this blog with a post published 2012/11/07. For most of the world1, this would otherwise be known as 07/11/2012, 7 November 2012.

It was started so I had a place to write about my baking experiments, my interest in the baked goods I encountered while living in Rome, where we moved in August 2011, and my burgeoning enthusiasm for Italian birre artigianali (artisan beers, craft beer).

Some Baladin beers

Leon, Wayan and Isaac from Baladin, the brewery that really kicked it all off in Italy and still produces many of the best, most intereting beers here.

Now, almost 11 months later, I’ve arrived at my 100th post…. just as we’re preparing to leave Rome after two roller-coaster years. These included:
difficult work (Fran);
unpaid work/unemployment (me; including one [dubious] SF-fantasy novel, an internship on the American Academy’s Sustainable Food Project, and this educating-myself-about beer and waffling on about baking project);
faltering attempts to learn Italian;
lots of baking (some great; some heavy; some that went mushy);
lots of food (some amazing, a lot mediocre);
lots of beer (mostly interesting);
bewilderment at the Italian ways of doing things (or not doing things; like having to wait five months to get our internet connected, or the post office that doesn’t sell stamps);
still no kids (sadly);
neighbours from hell (WTF!? It’s 4am! Again! Che cazzo state facendo?! Stiamo provando di dormire. Mortacci tua!);
zanzare;
some great new friends;
witnessing Palme d’Or winner Nanni Moretti move in next door;
and, overall, an incredible immersion in this bonkers, intoxicating, dilapidated, exasperating, traffic-choked, caffeine-fuelled, history-sozzled city.

Draco beer

Draco, from Birrificio Montegioco. Made with bilberry (aka blueberry) syrup, no less.

When I wrote the 99th post, I thought, “Accidenti! I better do something interesting for the arbitrary landmark of number 100″. But that stymied me.

So instead, here are a load of pictures of beer. They’re mostly from a party we had at the weekend that doubled tripled up as a goodbye, a free jumble sale, and a celebration of Italian craft beer. Although we had a great selection of fascinating brews, they are only the tip of the iceberg of the 500 or so birra artigianale breweries currently operating in Italy. I wish I could stay here and keep on drinking my way through them, but we need to return to Britain.

Noa Reserve

Noa Reserve – one of the strangest beers we had that evening. Aged in barrels, it basically tastes of whisky, brandy, or as our friend MM said, “a memory of foreign land you’ve never been too.”

I do hope any readers of this blog won’t be put off by the fact I won’t have the glamorous “I live in Rome” factor any more. For the next few months, we’ll be visiting friends and family in the US and NZ, before settling back home around Christmas. So the blog will change slightly – not its tone, but its context.

We’ll see how it goes.

I certainly have no intention of stopping baking and I’m really excited to get back to the real beer scene in the UK, which, like that of Italy, has grown exponentially the past few years, with 197 new breweries opening in the past year alone, while London alone has nearly 50, up from just two in 2006.

Ecco, more photos of beer:

Marche'l Re

Marchè’l Re from Loverbeer brewery. Possibly even stranger than Noa Reserve, me and chef Chris Behr concluded it was like “drinking fruit beer from an ashtray”.2

Gotica from Brasserie Lacu

Gotica from Brasserie Lacu, a light double malted Belgian abbey ale – made in Belgium for the Italian market.

Rubbiu MRL

Can’t really find out much about this one, Rubbiu, but it was a great gift – as it came from a small brewery in a friend’s small home town outside Rome.

Zagara beer from Barley brewery

Zagara beer, an orange blossom honey ale from Barley brewery in Sardinia. So the first Sardinian beer I’ve ever had.

Line-up left

Line-up, centre

Line-up, right

And finally, a bit of nocturnal ambience. Thanks to anti-mosquito candles.

Isaac, anti-mozzie candles

1 Except you contrarians in the US, of course, who would insist on confusing the rest of us by using putting 11/07/2012 for 7 November 2012.

2 We didn’t necessarily mean this in a bad sense. I wish I’d written about Loverbeer more in my time here, but I’ve only really discovered them fairly recently. (I did write about their Madamin.) As they really are producing some of the most interesting beers in Italy. They seem intent on combining the traditions and tastes of wine and beer. So their D’uva beer  is made with 20% grape must and tastes much more like a sparkling wine than a beer, not unlike say Birra del Borgo’s Rubus.

I’m increasingly interested in this whole area of making beer that doesn’t really taste of hops or malt. It’s fascinating, and I’m very divided. The above mentioned Noa Reserve, from Almond ’22 brewery, is another example, as is the fascinating Etrusca (which can be seen in one of the above pics), a beer made by three different breweries (Baladin and Borgo in Italy, and Dogfish Head in the US) according to an ancient recipe; it tastes much more like wine or mead than beer. I very much enjoyed experiencing the weirder beers we had, but I think my favourite of the evening was Ius Primae Noctis (“right of the first night”, Latin for “droit du seigneur”), a hoppy, citrussy Italian APA from Birrificio Aurelio, which is in Ladispoli, not far from Rome. So yes, I’m clearly not leaving behind hoppy beers any time soon.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Discussion, Italian beer